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Bangladesh-India ties: What direction are we heading towards?

June 24, 2024 8:30 am

The two leaders have met each other ten times since 2019, making unprecedented transformations in the relationship. Photo: Ministry of External Affairs, India
The two leaders have met each other ten times since 2019, making unprecedented transformations in the relationship. Photo: Ministry of External Affairs, India

By Nurul Islam Hasib

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s second visit to India within the same month, which she labelled as unprecedented, stands out with the issuance of a “shared vision” instead of the usual joint statement, indicating a deeper level of cooperation.

The leaders’ announcement of a new journey for development and friendship underscores a commitment to long-term collaboration towards a more integrated and collaborative future, with a focus on economic partnership, regional connectivity, and strategic alignment.

In the bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they set their focus on digital and energy connectivity for the future.

Broader railway connectivity discussions, Bangladesh’s decision to join India’s Indo-Pacific Oceans Initiative, initiation of negotiations for the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), India’s consent for electricity imports from Nepal, introduction of e-visas for Bangladeshi patients and the establishment of a new Indian mission in Rangpur are some of the key developments.

However, there was no progress on the Teesta water-sharing issue.

Five Key Issues

Dr Ashikur Rahman, Principal Economist of the Policy Research Institute, told Dhaka Tribune that the visit would take connectivity, commerce and collaboration between the countries to a new height.

He identified five key issues that emerged from this bilateral visit.

  1. There is now a joint commitment to the long-term vision of Bangladesh and India – as India endorsed our aspirations embodied in Smart Bangladesh Vision 2041 and Bangladesh backed India’s Vision of Viksit Bharat 2047.
  2. The two nations have decided to further enhance connectivity in its broadest form – physical connectivity covering multi-modal transport and cross-border trade & transit infrastructure for seamless cross-border movement of people, goods and services, as well as energy connectivity and digital connectivity.
  3. Both nations expressed a desire for the early commencement of negotiations for a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), and early operationalization of two Special Economic Zones offered by Bangladesh to India in Mongla and Mirsharai.
  4. As part of the development cooperation, India will also undertake the conservation and management of the Teesta River inside Bangladesh within a mutually agreed timeframe.
  5. India has promised to extend e-medical visa facility to people from Bangladesh travelling to India for medical treatment.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      “Collectively, this visit underscores the formation of a mutually beneficial all-encompassing bilateral partnership, which transcends strategic partnerships that are generally observed between countries,” said Dr Ashikur Rahman.Onus on bureaucracies/ policymakers

    Prof Shahab Enam Khan, Department of International Relations of Jahangirnagar University, told Dhaka Tribune that the bilateral talk came with multiple commitments “aimed at creating a commonwealth and aspirations to facilitate development that would be helpful to both economies”.

    “Not surprisingly, Teesta remained inconclusive regarding solid initiatives, but there has been recognition that the transboundary water needs to be equitably shared. Both leaders paved the way for further collaboration in infrastructure to help the Indian economy grow as Bangladesh grows and the Indian Northeast gets the share of regional growth and development,” he said.

    “This allows optimal use of Bangladeshi infrastructure built by itself or its major development partners. I hope to see a more promising Northeast Indian economy that can help reduce insecurity in India and Bangladesh. At the same time, the pending access for Bangladesh to Nepal and Bhutan for energy and transport connectivity has been effectively addressed, which would yield win-win deals for the sub-regional countries. The cooperation issues in the green economy and digital connectivity highlight the commitment to embrace new economic realities.

    “What remains to see is how bureaucracies and policymakers could tap into the commitment to make it a bona fide reality,” he said.

    Prof Shahab added: “Bangladesh’s prime minister aptly stresses the need for talks on economic partnerships to make it more pragmatic and solid for both countries.

    “I was particularly intrigued by the joint effort to revive Saarc and BIMSTEC to get momentum. Bangladesh maintains a distinct Indo-Pacific Outlook, which is inclusive. Hence, the country will welcome any Indo-Pacific initiative that offers tangible economic gains and inclusivity for all the major powers and developing economies to participate”.

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